#70 Western Kentucky Football 2014 Preview

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

Overall Rank: #70
#2 Conference USA

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Jeff Brohm will be the third coach for Western Kentucky in the past three seasons. Bobby Petrino took over for Willie Taggart, who left for South Florida before last season, and led the Hilltoppers to an 8-4 record in his lone season at the helm in 2013. He left for Louisville in the offseason and Brohm was elevated from his offensive coordinator last season. Brohm will face a tough task, as the Hilltoppers are set to move up to the Conference USA conference after 32 years in the Sun Belt.

2013 Record: (8-4, 4-3)
2013 Bowl: None
Coach: Jeff Brohm (0-0 at Western Kentucky, 0-0 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Tyson Helton
Defensive Coordinator: Nick Holt

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Leon Allen, RB, 357 yards
Passing: Brandon Doughty, QB, 2,857 yards
Receiving: Willie McNeal, WR, 599 yards
Tackles: Cam Thomas, DB, 41
Sacks: Gavin Rocker, DE, 2.0; Kalvin Robinson, LB, 2.0
Interceptions: Cam Thomas, DB, 5

Other Key Returnees: OL Cameron Clemmons, TE Mitchell Henry, OL Forrest Lamp, WR Joel German, WR Nicholas Norris, K Garrett Schwettman, DT Devante Terrell

Key Losses: RB Antonio Andrews, LB Xavius Boyd, LB Andrew Jackson, DB Jonathon Dowling, DB Tyree Robinson, DB Arius Wright, OL Luis Polanco, DE Bar’ee Boyd, P Hendrix Brakefield

The Hilltoppers broke eight school records offensively last season and with a number of key returnees on the offense, it will be the team’s strength this season. Brandon Doughty is back to lead the offense and he is coming off a huge season. He threw for 2,857 yards and 14 touchdowns in his first year as a starter. His 2,857 passing yards were a school record, as was his completion percentage, 65.8. Doughty will have a number of weapons at his disposal, as Western Kentucky returns their top four receivers and their tight end from last year. Willie McNeal is back after leading the team in receptions, 46, receiving yards, 599, and touchdowns, 5. Nicholas Norris emerged as a weapon as a freshman, catching 33 passes for 431 yards and four touchdowns, while tight end Mitchell Henry had two touchdowns to go along with 25 catches and 305 yards last year. Also back are receivers Joel German, 26 catches for 339 yards, and Taywan Taylor, 24 catches for 270 yards, who both have started seven games in their Hilltopper careers. Doughty should have plenty of time to find his receivers, as four starting linemen return from last year. Senior Cameron Clemmons is back for his fourth year as a starter, third at left tackle, while a trio of sophomores, Forrest Lamp, Max Halpin and Darrell Williams, return after solid rookie seasons.

While the offense returns largely intact, there is one big piece missing, running back Antonio Andrews. Andrews was a do-it-all back for Western Kentucky, amassing 2,619 all-purpose yards last year. He set a single season rushing record with 1,730 yards and added 16 touchdowns. Andrews was also a favorite target for Doughty in the receiving game, as he was second on the team in receptions, 41, and receiving yards, 478. Andrews isn’t the only loss, as the Hilltopper defense, which was the best in the Sun Belt conference for the past two seasons, has seven starters gone from a year ago. Five of those starters, linebackers Andrew Jackson and Xavius Boyd, and defensive backs Jonathon Dowling, Arius Wright and Tyree Robinson, were key parts of the defense during both seasons and were the top five tacklers on last year’s team, combining for 362 tackles between them. Boyd was the 2013 Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year, while Dowling led the NCAA in forced fumbles with six. Western Kentucky will need some players to step up and fill those shoes to maintain their success of recent years.

The Bottom Line:
Western Kentucky’s success is going to revolve around whether or not the Hilltoppers can replace the key departed players. Offensively, Antonio Andrews was key to the team’s success and somebody will need to help offset his loss. Leon Allen looks to get the first shot at the spot. The junior ran for 357 yards and five touchdowns last year and he will need to up his production this year. Defensively, the Hilltoppers return three starters on the defensive line and defensive back Cam Thomas, who led the team in interceptions with five, but the focus will be on the players entering the starting lineup. Western Kentucky needs to replace all three linebackers and three defensive backs. Converted wide receiver Rico Brown should slide into a starting role in the defensive backfield after making 29 tackles last season and sophomore linebacker Kalvin Robinson could have a big role after making three tackles for loss, including two sacks, as a freshman last year. The Hilltoppers also bring in a highly touted recruiting class that is full of JUCO players who could see immediate playing time. If players can step up on defense and Leon Allen can have a solid season, the Hilltoppers should have a lot of success in the Conference USA.

Projected Bowl: Hawaii Bowl

2013 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 196.8 (34th in nation, 3rd in conference)
Passing Offense: 261.7 (35, 2)
Total Offense: 458.5 (30, 2)
Scoring Offense: 30.8 (53, 3)
Rushing Defense: 161.3 (59, 4)
Pass Defense: 177.9 (10, 1)
Total Defense: 339.2 (14, 1)
Scoring Defense: 24.6 (44, 1)
Turnover Margin: -0.8 (112, 7)
Sacks: 2.25 (50, 2)
Sacks Allowed: 1.67 (41, 2)


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